A Dangerous Dynasty: The House of Assad, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, director Nick Green.

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Panorama, BBC 1, BBCiPlayer, editor Rachel Jupp.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bb6yw0/panorama-syrias-chemical-war

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bnfn0d/a-dangerous-dynasty-house-of-assad-series-1-episode-1

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bp1b9v/a-dangerous-dynasty-house-of-assad-series-1-episode-2

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0bpyvvh

Civil War in Syria has lasted seven years, around 13 million of its citizens have been displaced and the refugee crisis in Europe has led to a right-wing orchestrated backlash against those who dare to cross borders and not die quietly at home.

Bashar Al-Assad the President of Syria was never meant to be in the position of leadership, never meant to be a mass murderer of around half a million of his people, never meant to sanction the use of barrel bombs, low-tech chlorine and high-tech Sarin chemical weapons against men, women and children, in the city of Idib, targeting hospitals – and then of course, deny it. He was never cut out to be a war criminal that should be charged under the 1949 Geneva Convention for crimes against humanity.

Bashar Al-Assad was destined to be a run-of-the mill eye-doctor who trained at St Mary’s hospital in Paddington, London. A largely forgotten figure outside his own country, where his father Hafez was a conventional Middle-East dictator with a billion pound sea-front property in which to bring up his five children.  A pragmatic man who seized power in a 1970 army  coup d’etat and intended to keep it by whatever means necessary, which included bombing and killing up to 20 000 of his own citizens in Homs and jailing and torturing many others.

Not surprisingly, when the Arab Spring flooded the Middle East in 2011, Homs home of the Muslim Brotherhood and Sunni Muslims was anti-Assad. Again unarmed civilians were murdered and tortured, prisoners in Syria’s largest prison massacred.

Watch what seems ancient footage of newly trained recruits stabbing puppies as a mark of loyalty to President Hafez, but they had it easy, female soldiers had to bite the heads off live snakes.  But Hafez also saw off Israeli advances in Lebanon, a state he kept firmly in his grip as a satellite and he lived long enough to see off six elected American Presidents.

Bashar’s eldest brother Bassel was in line to take over from Hafez. He showed the right credentials. When a fellow army officer in a horse-riding event, for example, beat Bassel in an equestrian championship he was arrested. It doesn’t tell you what happened to him next, but we can guess. Bassel also liked fast cars and that’s what killed him.

Hafez had to decide who to pass his crown to, his daughter, of course, was ruled out for being the wrong gender. We can take the script from a cross between the Corleone family in The Godfather and King Lear, ‘nothing will come of nothing’. Quietly spoken Bashar comes from nothing to lead the family when his father dies, but he has married wisely and married well, Asma’s Lady Macbeth and would-be first lady of Syria, but supermodels herself on Lady Di.

Fast forward to 2013, millions fleeing Syria, the advance of Islamic State and Bashar’s family only controlling 14% of Syria, and the rebels three miles from his presidential palace.   One word: PUTIN.

Poems for Refugees (2002) edited by Pippa Haywood.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) The Second Coming.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosened and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction; while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity

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McMafia BBC 1, iPlayer, written by Hossein Amini and James Watkins, directed by James Watkins.

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p05pkszd/mcmafia-series-1-episode-1

I watched the first two episodes of McMafia and it’s great. I’ll be watching the other six. It’s based on a novel by Misha Glenny. I’ve not read it so I don’t know how good an adaptation it is. Not only does the director get the kudos of being the director, he also gets to play writer and gets half the writer’s pay. That’s the kind of leverage Theresa May would love when she’s trying and failing to work out a Brexit deal.

McMafia reminds me of The Godfather in some ways. Remember when Michael Corleone starts off a war hero and ex-marine that is squeaky clean that wants to settle down with Kay his girlfriend and start a family, and all he needs is papa’s blessing? We all know how that went.

Here we have fresh-faced Alex Godman (James Norton) that is squeaky clean and wants to settle down in London and become a successful hedge-fund billionaire and not rely on his old papa the ex-Moscow mafia boss.

The backstory is a bit Bill Browderish. Bill Browder, of course, is on Putin’s hit list for exposing how the Russian state stole his fortune and killed his friends. Then, of course, we’ve got the problem with polonium. It’s meant to be as rare as decent Brotherhood of Man single, but real people, former ‘businessmen’ from Moscow seem to keel over dead from uranium poisoning. That’s no good propaganda for Russia or the McMafia.

Here American actor David Strathairn plays former Moscovite and Jewish member of the Knesset,  Semiyon Kleiman who aims to topple his former nemesis Vadim Kalyagin (Merab Ninidze, who looks a bit like the current Swansea manager, contact your local M16 agent). Kalyagin is the kind of guy that is not on Putin’s hit list, the kind of guy that is on Putin’s speed dial. The kind of man that Bill Browder would recognise as a state-sponsored assassin.

McMafia doesn’t mean there’s a Scottish branch. They’re not like the Masons. Well, maybe they are a bit. But it refers to a bit of advice Kleiman gives young Goldman, McDonalds is the number one for fast food because quite simply there are more of them and they are everywhere. McKleiman and McGoldman must multiple until McKalyagin is reduced to washing cars and not laundering money. Worth watching. Go along  for the ride.

Imagine: Marlon Brando, BBC 2 – On the Waterfront, director Ella Kazan, 1954 and Steve Riley’s award-winning documentary, Listen to Me Marlon.

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08bfww6

I spent three and a half hours with Marlon Brando, which is quite a long time for an old buddie like me without falling asleep, especially on a Saturday night, when there’s football on, and I’ve not got a beer in my hand, but I don’t feel that it was time wasted.

I’ve watched On the Waterfront before. Don’t ask me when, or what it’s about, that’s a bit like asking me if I’ve read a book, and I say yeh, and then can perhaps pick out some detail that has sellotaped two neurons together with sufficient force to constitute working memory. In this case, it’s Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) telling his brother ‘I could have been a contender.’ There’s universality about that line that sticks, an everyman truth that if we did the right thing and stuck at it, we’d get our just rewards. It’s a morality play and the American Dream, writ large on Malloy’s face and nothing and no one is going to stop us.

The film is black and white, but that’s not what makes it dated. Johnny Friendly (Lee J Cobb) is mobster that runs the docks and what he says goes and without him no ship gets unloaded. He’s corrupt because unions are corrupt and, with kickbacks, stop people from working for a fair’s day pay. Yankee Doodle I say to that, because I remember mobsters, I even remember unions, but this notion of a fair day’s pay that really was an 1950’s invention. Offshore tax free havens for money laundering such as the British Virgin Isles, Jersey or London hadn’t even been invented. All right then, London had been invented.  Shoreman lining up for a job, if their face fitted, they got a job, if it didn’t they never. No change there, as far as I can see. I ask myself who the villains would be now? Ask yourself that question too.

Then there’s the question of loyalty and ratting on your friends. Johnny Friendly tells Terry to go and spy on those that want to do things differently, the disgruntled masses that don’t want to pay kickbacks to workshy loafers in their chapel that give nothing back but take everything. Strangely familiar too. That’s not ratting, or grassing, because you’re really for us or against us, and these people are different. That was a theme Ella Kazan was all too familiar with. In Arthur Miller’s marvellous autobiography Timebends he tells how Kazan was asked to appear before the Hoover inspired witchhunt House of UnAmerican Activities to talk about his friends, associates and work colleagues. Someone like B-part player, Ronnie Reagan was delighted to do so. As did Kazan. Miller, his former friend and associate, didn’t. Kazan’s knowledge about ratting and stool pigeons came first hand.  (http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/50s/navasky-chap7.html)

I get it, I really do, and Marlon Brando, the youngest actor to receive an Oscar for best actor got it too. Hollywood was open for business and Marlon Brando was the new star and the bright young thing that offered something different from traditional male leads. He was lucky. ‘I arrived in New York with the clothes on my back,’ Brando tells the listener. ‘Luck Be A Lady Tonight,’ Guys and Dolls. Brando was hot as Sarah Palin in snow boots. Watch him being interviewed by two young and attractive presenters. It makes your toes curl with embarrassment. But a magazine cover asked ‘Could there have been an Elvis without Brando?’ Another way of putting this is could there have been a John F Kennedy without Brando? JFK didn’t even like wearing hats, that’s how hip the first Catholic president was.

Brando sought a new self, away from the razzmatazz of Hollywood in Haiti. There wasn’t just a Mutiny on the Bounty. He found that the old self didn’t go home. The old self was home. ‘Give me the boy and I’ll give you the man,’ is the Jesuit epigram in Apsted’s 7-UP series.  Luck isn’t always a Lady. A son that kills his half-sister’s boyfriend and is convicted of manslaughter and his daughter that commits suicide.

Brando’s life becomes what he says he most hates – a soap opera. If he didn’t become an actor he claims he would have made a good conman. The world’s greatest actor. Imagine how he felt having to audition for roles such as that in The Godfather. That’s like Muhammad Ali, being called Cassius Clay, and  having to audition for the boxing ring. Then I realized that Ali did have to, when he came out of prison. Brando supported King and the black right’s movement. He was an activist for social justice. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine what he thought of Donald J Trump.

Actors come and go. Brando’s tapes include him boasting about being paid $14 million for twelve days work on Superman. Then, there’s Macbeth’s soliloquy, all actors seem to have it in their portfolio, even the best actor in the world but if you want to hear the real thing then listen to Anthony Hopkins sending up his Shakespearean friends on Parkinson, most notably that other best actor in the world Laurence Olivier. Even the mad Conrad’s Kurtz, in Apocalypse Now would recognise the sentiments.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.